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STEM roles collaborating to tackle Covid-19 (part 2)

  • 22 June 2020

STEM Roles Collaborating to Tackle Covid-19 (part 2)

With end of year approaching for many graduating students in the fields of STEM, understanding roles available can be confusing.

Part 1 of this article looked at roles in R&D and in manufacturing for diagnostics. This final part looks at installing the equipment, training the users and performing the pathology specimen analysis.

WITS executive committee member and founder of Treacy Healthcare Consulting, Susan Treacy, writes:

Installing the equipment

Once purchased, in the case of new instrumentation, the diagnostic company’s commercial and technical teams collaborate with the biomedical scientists and clinical teams at pathology sites to map out an effective installation and validation plan. The time and complexity of an installation varies from a single day to many weeks. The diagnostic engineering and IT teams will then work with the hospital scientific and IT teams to ensure the instrument is installed and running correctly. The instrument needs to be linked to the hospital laboratory information system to send results directly to the clinicians.

Whether the hospital instrumentation is new or not, Covid-19 kits are new and need to be installed and validated on the instruments by the diagnostic company’s scientific support team or ‘applications’ team. These scientists install the Covid-19 testing kits on the instrument and set up all of the parameters for the kits. They will work closely with the hospital’s biomedical scientists who validate the test and ensure it is providing correct results. All of this requires planning, project management and careful execution of the installation step with all of the teams involved. Again www.gradireland.com is a good resource for information about potential roles.

Training the Scientists

Manufacturer’s equipment varies and so if equipment is new to that laboratory, instrument or IT training must be provided by a certified scientific trainer to the pathology biomedical scientists who will be running the test. This process of training and validation takes time and requires collaboration with the pathology lab staff and the company’s scientist. In the meantime, the lab (with the support of its quality department and the supplier) needs to write up all standard operating procedures relating to all aspects of running the instrument, testing and reporting. This is used for the Irish National Accreditation Board audit. For Covid-19 there is an added step for the IT teams and scientists, to report all positives to HSE system as Covid-19 is a notifiable infectious disease. Again the scientific, engineering and IT teams work hand in hand as well as with the supporting departments.

Pathology Specimen Analysis

Once the process is signed off, the biomedical scientists, helped by hospital laboratory aides, begin the task of analysing the samples that arrive in huge numbers from the hospitals and sampling centres. There are many steps to this, including preparing samples for analysis, carrying out the many stages of the Covid-19 analysis and reporting the results. Again, it is important to remember that earlier this year this test didn’t even exist and that Covid-19 analysis is being run in addition to existing workloads. The biomedical scientists continue to work relentlessly to provide results daily to help the healthcare system manage this virus. Results once available go via the IT network to the people who need it most to manage patient care. There are many opportunities in biomedical science and biochemistry in pathology laboratories. It is very important if you are choosing to study biomedical science that you ensure it is an accredited course or recognised course. More information can be found at the following sites https://acslm.ie/ and http://www.acbi.ie/.

A Village Working Together With A Common Goal

Diagnostics and pathology analysis has come to the forefront, as it is providing one weapon in fighting this virus. Scientific, IT, engineering and commercial teams are collaborating in a co-ordinated yet high pressured environment. These teams and the people in them ensure the availability of Covid-19 analysis to help governments manage and slow down the virus to minimise the detrimental impact on the public.

This diagnostic overview is a small piece in the healthcare puzzle fighting Covid-19 and provides only a small insight into opportunities for STEM roles. It by no means encompasses the many other STEM areas in healthcare like medical devices. New developments emerge daily, with engineers finding new and novel ways to produce ventilators or PPE, or the IT teams using AI and apps to bring solutions to help with tracking and tracing. Globally, in research and in pharma companies STEM teams work unwaveringly to find and produce new treatments and a vaccine. Whether you are a scientist, an engineer or an IT graduate, there are many opportunities in all the numerous aspects of healthcare. In the meantime, for Covid-19, in pathology and diagnostics, this ‘village’ and community will continue to fight the good fight!

Susan's profile is on LinkedIn and she tweets at @susan_treacy.